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A recent post in one of the Charlotte Mason forums I frequent asked about using jazz as a composer study in their child’s education. My opinion is that the traditional classical composers of art music should be prioritized first, but introducing a child to jazz music is a must! My own music education was awakened when I discovered jazz! I remember sitting in the auditorium my freshman year of college and listening to the jazz band perform. I went up to the director and said “when I come back next year I want to audition! What do I need to study over the summer?” He gave me Jerry Coker’s piano jazz book and told me to start learning my ii-V-I progressions and rootless voicings. I did just that and spent the next 3 years of college thriving in jazz band and private lessons from Alan and Paula Wyatt. They opened my eyes to a new way of looking at theory and music! I’ll forever be grateful to them for their influence in my life – both personal and musical!
As an elementary music teacher I had the opportunity to expose my students to some wonderful jazz concepts and composers! What I’d like to do first is link to some books that are great for general jazz music education, and then link to some composer specific books and works of music. Although there are plenty of worthy jazz artists to study, I will link to the few that have wonderful picture books geared toward the younger crowd. If you have other recommendations of living books to list in this reference I would love to hear it! Also, there are two composers that can easily be categorized as influential in jazz. They are George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein. You can easily find wonderful books and teaching information for these composers and I would actually classify them as classical composers worthy of a full term study each!
My plan for jazz study is to spend a term (12 weeks) looking at the different composers listed in this post and spend 1-2 weeks on each performer.
Alright, it’s time to get those fingers ready for snapping and toes ready for tapping! The music you will hear will put a smile on your face!
General Jazz Books
Before spending time focusing on one of the jazz greats, check out these great overview books that will catch your child’s attention! I used the Jazz Fly books in my classroom and they were frequently requested when we had extra time at the end of a lesson!
I love the story of Scott Joplin! Living in Nashville and marrying into a family in the music business, I always thought it was a fun fact to read that Joplin was one of the first musicians to collect “royalty checks!” Make sure you sit down and listen to “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag” while learning about Joplin!
You can never mistake that voice of Louis with his iconic “What a Wonderful World” recording! Or smile when you see those cheeks while he performs on his trumpet!
For a real treat, show your children the video of Armstrong performing What a Wonderful World. I can’t watch it without crying.
If you can only pick one composer/performer for a jazz composer study, this is the one! Duke is royalty in jazz history! We were fortunate to attend our library’s puppet production of Ellingtown – a musical story telling of his life and music! You can check it out here (all 27 minutes!)
I can’t say Charlie Parker without reading the text of this great book! In the public school classroom I used this book to teach a fun Orff lesson with the kids learning about improvisation and it was so fun! There is an episode of “Between the Lions” that has a musical adaptation of this book if you need some inspiration!
If you can’t tell, I love Chris Rascka books! You can’t learn about Thelonious Monk without watching some performances of his hands. “Round Midnight” and “Blue Monk” are standards to listen to while reading this book! If you listen to a song by Monk and Ellington back to back you can hear a definite change in style! Jazz develops different personalities in each age and it’s fun to listen for the distinguishing qualities like modal scales, blue notes, etc.
Coltrane worked with Thelonious monk as well as other greats like Miles Davis and Bill Evans. They are all on the Miles Davis recording/CD “Kind of Blue” which should be included in any jazz lover’s music collection! Coltrane’s album “Giant Steps” is a great CD to put on and let your kids get all their wiggles out!
This is a video of a performer I was blessed to see in person (Oscar Peterson at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London 1999!) I never knew what a treat it was to hear him in person – this video was made before his stroke but he still was an amazing performer in 1999 just as he is in the video below where he explains different jazz piano techniques! Enjoy!